Less than two months after the city of Longview spent $36,000 to dislodge corrosion from aging water mains, citizens are complaining again that their water tastes bad.
But now, the water quality complaints aren’t just from people in the Baltimore Street area, where 10 tons of an ice slurry were pumped through the water lines in late July in a new pipe-clearing process called “ice pigging.” The city now is receiving five to 15 calls per day from residents of downtown, the Old West Side, the New West Side and the Robbins Addition neighborhoods, Public Works Director Jeff Cameron said.
The ice pigging procedure was “a worthwhile effort,” he said last week. “It did work for a little while, but it apparently wasn’t the solution for the water quality issues that we have going on.”
The complaints about metallic-tasting, yellowish, smelly water began coming in shortly after the city switched its water source in January from the Cowlitz River to groundwater wells that tap into the deep aquifer.
“We were not anticipating this volume of problems ... but we knew there was going to be a transition period,” Cameron said. “The water coming out of the treatment plant is still very high quality.”
Although objectionable, chlorine and metallic odors and taste are usually not a health threat, according to the city.
City officials have speculated that rust and corrosion in the pipes is being dislodged because the water flow changed directions when the city stopped pumping its water from the Cowlitz River. They also believe iron nodules in the pipes are dissolving because the groundwater’s chemistry is different from the river water.
For a short-term fix, the city has been flushing the mains once or twice a week, and citywide water flushing will resume Sunday night. Replacing the city’s old cast iron and galvanized water mains, installed 80 or 90 years ago, would solve the problem, according to city staff. But at a whopping $270 per linear foot, replacing all those lines would cost tens of millions of dollars.
The city is paying a consultant $29,800 to solve the water quality problem and to recommend ways to soften the water pumped from the Mint Farm’s wells. Citizens also are complaining about the well water being noticeably harder than that of the river water.
The Mint Farm groundwater scores a 91 on a hardness scale that measures naturally occurring calcium and magnesium minerals. By contrast, the river water rates a 27. Water rated 0-60 is soft, moderate water is 61-120, hard water is 121-180 and very hard water is anything higher than 181.
Hard water can leave white deposits on glassware, utensils and vehicles, cause dry skin or hair, and leave more soap scum on household surfaces, according to the city.
Confluence Engineering Group, LLC, of Seattle is expected to have a recommendation for solving the water woes by early December, and the City Council will vote on how to proceed. Installing a water softening system at the Mint Farm water plant could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and likely would drive up utility rates. If the council takes no action, city water customers could buy water softening systems for their homes and businesses, Cameron said. However, home-based systems involve using sodium, which can be problematic for customers with salt sensitivity.
In the meantime, fed-up citizens have started a Facebook page called “Citizens Against Longview’s New Water Supply.”
The city switched to a groundwater system because that was much cheaper than rebuilding the old water plant on Fisher’s Lane, which was wearing out because of the abrasive effect of volcanic silt in the river.